What's on my mind.

28 December 2007

Transitional Form

I went by to check on Honu-Girl's cats today. I think I offended Percy when I didn't let him sit in my lap because I was about to eat. And I generally offend Molly because "I'm not Mom." But I stayed and tried to convince Percy to come sit with me and get some loving and watched a Nova episode they had tivo'd, "Judgement Day: Intelligent Design on Trial". A great episode in my opinion.

If you haven't seen it here's a quick summary. The Dover, PA Board of Education's curriculum committee adopted a brief statement that was to be read to the students presumably just before studying evolution. The statement mentions the State's requirements that evolution be taught and that standardized test would cover it. It then states that evolution is a theory and not a fact (and it has "gaps"). Intelligent design is said to be another theory of how life on Earth began and suggests the book "Of Pandas and People" as a reference. (Sixty copies had been donated to the high school.) The science teachers refused to read the statement and eleven parents sued the school board on the basis that requiring the mention of intelligent design was a violation of the Constitution. The judge agreed that intelligent design was not only not science but that the statement's intent was a violation of the establishment clause.

One of the things creationists, and their descendants the intelligent design proponents, like to say is that if one animal evolves from another than why are there no transitional forms. THERE ARE. Plain and simple, transitional forms exist*. Scientists have not found every single transitional form in an evolutionary line and never will, but transitional forms do exist. In fact one person who testified for the plaintiffs had recently been part of an expedition that found an excellently preserved fossil of a fish that had lobed fins, scales, and a flat amphibian like head. He didn't get to talk about that fossil since the paper was in preparation during the trial but he did talk about many others. Transitional fossils are one piece of evidence amongst many many pieces that support evolution as the explanation of how life began.

Intelligent design proponents argue that an "intelligent agent" designed life. Well, even if you don't call it God, Allah, Gaea, or Yahweh, this intelligent agent is a god. Intelligent design may not specify a religion but it relies on the existence of a god. This is not good science. The existence of God cannot be proven or disproven. Her intervention in a given event may be disproven, although the most stubborn will cling to the argument that "that She only makes it look like [insert appropriate scientific principle like gravity, germs, and natural selection]", Her actual existence is not disprovable. The key to science is that if something can't be tested, often by negation, than it isn't science. Many things can't be proven to always be true but can be disproven. Take Pythagoras' theory for example, find just one right triangle that doesn't fit a*a + b*b = c*c and no one will ever have to learn their Pythagorean triples again (but they are so useful).

My favorite part of the two hours was when they went back to discuss one tactic for proving the religious nature of intelligent design. A reference to the academic editor of "Of Pandas and People" wanting to write a "balanced" textbook that presented both evolution and creation was found, so the lawyers subpoenaed all drafts of the book from the publishers and sent them to Barbara Forest. She found two drafts one written shortly before the 1987 Edwards v. Aguillard decision that outlawed the teaching of creation in schools and one shortly after it. The first had this statement:

Creation means that various forms of life began abruptly, through the agency of an intelligent Creator, with their distinctive features already intact: fish with fins and scales, birds with feathers, beaks and wings, et cetera.
The second had this sentence in place of the above on:

Intelligent design means that various forms of life began abruptly through an intelligent agency, with their distinctive features already intact: fish with fins and scales, birds with feathers, beaks, et cetera.

Wow, there's a big rewrite. The first word becomes two and a seven word phrase becomes a four word one. Gee, really changes the meaning, doesn't it? Well, in addition to this blatant attempt to hide the religious foundation of this "theory", she also found something somewhat amusing. You may have noticed up there I referred to intelligent design proponents as the descendants of creationists. They really evolved from the creationists. Now you may ask if they evolved than where is the transitional form? That's what Dr. Forest found. In the later draft there is reference to "cdesign proponentsists". This is the transitional form between "creationists" and "design proponents". There you have it evolution occurs even to those who don't believe in it.
(I can't take credit for the transitional forms bit, Nick Matzke said it on the show. I just thought it was hilarious and wanted to share it with y'all)

*Bill, hate to break it to you but fossilized rooted surfaces are found under coal seams. Jack can show you some, not that it will change your mind. All coals are NOT deposited from rafts of floating vegetation and they most certainly were NOT deposited in a world-wide flood.

26 December 2007

Christmas wrap-up

So, I had a nice Christmas. Got some cool stuff; I'm already using the kitchen composter and have made an origami tetrahedron. Ate dinners with two of my brothers and their families; one without his crazy in-laws. My house mates moved out; and took almost all their stuff.

Yep, that's right. Ellen and Allen have moved out! I'm glad that they are able to have their own space again. And I will probably miss them a little; it was nice to see Ellen most days. But...

I can move my T.V. back upstairs and rearrange the living room so it is a conversational group again and not theater seating. (Not that anyone comes over to conversate.) I don't have to worry about snoring or if my door is closed when I change clothes. (or hearing other people gettin' it on in my house) No one else will be dirtying dishes and leaving food where my dog can get to it. (Now I can only blame myself.) And best of all NO LITTLE DOG PISSING ON MY COUCH CUSHION! (or pooping on the rugs in my bedroom.)*

Unfortunately peace does not seem to have broken out all over the world. Our troops are not headed home. There is no evidence that most Americans woke up yesterday morning with the realization that no one likes a bully. And the primary season is not over with a moratorium on campaigning for the general election until June. So there are some Christmas wishes left unfilled.

*May I suggest buying stock in Simple Solution, I suspect I will be using a lot of it to get the cushion to not smell by human standards.

19 December 2007

Mish Mash (with some Christmas thrown in)

Since I don't feel like doing actual work this morning (Motivation is a little low on a Wednesday morning.) and I'm don't feel like playing sudoku, I think I'll write up some random things.

First: Monday Photo Shoot: Show us something of interest on your porch.

Ellen's ferrets

2. Did you know that when after a woman has a baby and her ligaments all tighten back up her hips may not return to their normal position? This apparently happened to my mom about 35.5 years ago. This is why her already bad back has gotten SO bad. So our spines are designed to carry all that weight out front but our hips could use some work.

C. What large piece of equipment is backing up outside my office and why is it's beeper so damn loud? It's stopped now.

D: Why the f^@k isn't our heat on? Yes, I could get a space heater but that still begs the question "WHY?". Has the university really saved any money by not having the heat on through the entire semester (steam plant cranked up Monday, they have heat next door) when students, faculty, and staff are putting (illegal) space heaters in their dorm rooms and offices?

5th: I forgot now what that was going to be.

Sixthly, I was reminded Sunday of a Christmas anthem that I really like. Nettie and I went to the choir concert at church and one of the things they sung was "This Christmastide" the chorus of which is "May peace and hope and love abide, this Christmastide." It is a very pretty quiet song. I don't remember all the words but it is a nice quiet Christmas song. Another anthem I love for Christmas time is "Peace Came to Earth." Not only does it have a lovely French horn part, but it is also a quiet awe-filled Christmas song, too. The chorus isn't exactly the same every time but follows the pattern "Who could but ____ Emmanuel? Who could but _____ Emmanuel?" with different verbs filling the blanks. The piece builds to the last verse ending with "Who could but shout Emmanuel? Who could but praise Emmanuel?"

Driving in this morning I was thinking about how I like the joyful Christmas songs but I also like the quite reverent ones, too. While the Christmas holiday is one of joy at the coming of the Christ (going to be a bit religious for a bit here) and we should celebrate His birth, it is also one of awe. (If you are not a Christian, try to imagine how the following knowledge would make one feel to believe this.) God choose to come down to earth not as a king or a hero or champion. He came to earth as a baby, a most fragile and vulnerable creature. Not even a prince or the child in a wealthy family but the son of a carpenter. Jesus bumped his head a million times as a toddler, scraped his knees playing chase, and got his butt tore up for sassing his momma (of the Israelite equivalent). God choose to be born a baby, to be a surly teenager with raging hormones*, to have to do chores, to fight with his parents for his independence, etc. God didn't have to do that. That is what we celebrate Tuesday. (Well, those of us who celebrate it as a religious holiday as well as a cultural one.)

Luke 2:19 say "But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart." I have an image of Mary, obviously not jumping up and down with glee since she'd just given birth, sitting there with angels signing and shepherds adoring and thinking not only I am now a mother and responsible for this child but my child is the Christ. And possibly following that up with an "OMG, WTF am I suppose to do?" Sometimes I think we Christians are suppose to just sit and be amazed. There is a lot about the Christmas story that doesn't make much sense. (Why were the shepherds in the fields in winter? It had to have been spring.) And I'm not entirely sure I'm completely on board with the whole virgin birth thing. But, to me, that doesn't change the beauty of it all.

Sorry, didn't mean to get all theological on you.

*I do not believe that Jesus was always a perfect child who never got in trouble. If he was fully human than he screwed up a bit along the way.

18 December 2007

Time Warp?

So it hit me this morning as I rushed to get dressed, the problem isn't that I get in the shower too late it's that I think too much.

I take long showers. It is my one great environmental failing. (That and not recycling steel cans.) If Lake Tuscaloosa weren't so much larger than Tuscaloosa really needs, I would be better about this.* Anyway, back to why my showers are so long. I always shower in the morning. My hair is just greasy enough to need to be washed every morning and it is part of my wake up routine.

Sometimes I take long showers to warm up. This is particularly true this time of year. I've been known to stay in until my toes are warm. Sometimes I take a shower/bath and it takes a while to fill the tub (especially when you turn down the water so you can keep the hot water from running out.;) Sometimes I just stand there and all but fall asleep. Most of the time I really don't know where the time goes.

One weekday mornings I use the timer on my little shower radio so I have some idea of how long I've been in there and that I really need to get a move on. Often I'll set it for 15 minutes. When it turns off I know I need to wash my hair and get out. (Washing my hair is always the last thing I do. Washing my face is usually the second to last thing I do.) When I get out of the shower I'm sometimes floored by the amount of time that has passed. Where did it go? This morning provides a clue.

As I was rinsing my face off, I started thinking about something**. Really pondering it. I was finally awake enough to string more than two thoughts together and this thing just popped up and I started wondering. I'm not sure how long I stood there but it was far longer than I intended. Really, I have no clue how much time passed. So maybe that's where all that time goes - random musings. If I'd just not let my brain start working on something, I could get out.

If I'm really really late I rush through my shower and don't get a chance to daydream. If I get up on time, I have plenty to spend in the shower. If I snooze, I'm late to work.

*But really even with the drought this year, we still have plenty of water. The lake is lower than I've ever seen it but we have plenty of drinking water. If we have a dry winter, things may change. Also, I have little sympathy for Atlanta (the people yes, the planners no) because they've had their head in the sand about the needs of the city and the capacity of Lake Lanier for about 20 years AND didn't start restricting users (except landscapers) until September. They partially brought the crisis on themselves.

**Do I start talking mid-thought? My mother sometimes starts mid-story (like she thinks she's told you the background info before) but I swear several times lately she seems to have missed the first half of my first sentence and the whole conversation gets confused from there. So do I start mid-sentence or was Mom just not listening well?

14 December 2007

Someone check my math

Apropos of this comic, the other night I was watching the “Mythbusters” episode where they test being talked through landing a commercial airplane (plausible, it is possible to be talked down but the odds against circumstances that would lead to this are astronomical) and three parachuting “myths” all from one scene in “Point Break”. To test the length of the scene (about 90 seconds before the chute is opened) they tossed Buster out of a plane at 4000 feet (the altitude of the plane when Patrick Swayze jumped). Buster hit the ground in 31 seconds. For some reason this caused me to go get paper and pencil and start doing so calculations.

At first I couldn’t figure out why it took so long, then I remember that Buster was not falling in a vacuum. Then I did the calculations based on a terminal velocity of 120 feet per second (the number they calculated as the terminal velocity of a person in the “spread eagle” position) and Buster fell too fast. (Because being a crash test dummy he didn’t know that he could live a couple seconds longer if he’d kept his arms out wide.) So I decided to find out what Buster’s actual terminal velocity was.

Here’s where I need someone to check my math. (Sign convention: plane is at x=0 and positive x is towards the ground. This gets rid of a bunch of superfluous negative signs)

We know that:
xt= x0 + v0(t) + ½ a(t2) vt = v0 + a(t)

xa = distance traveled while accelerating,
xt = distance traveled while at terminal velocity,
ta = time accelerating, and
tt = time at terminal velocity
vt = terminal velocity
a = 32ft/s2, the acceleration due to gravity
xa + xt = 4000ft,
ta + tt = 31s
xa = ½(32ft/s2)( ta2),
xt = vt (tt), and
vt = (32 ft/s2)( ta)
tt = 31s - ta
xt = (32 ft/s2ta)(31s- ta)
xa = ½(32ft/s2)( ta2)
(let’s drop some units to make this easier to read)
4000 = [(32 ta)(31- ta)] + ½(32)( ta2)
4000 = [(32 ta)(31) – 32ta]+ (16ta2)
4000/16 = [(32)(31ta) – 32ta2]/16+ [(16)( ta2)/16]
250 = [(62ta) – 2ta2] + [ta2]
250 = 62ta –ta2
0 = 62ta – ta2 – 250
(Rearrange into the standard order)
-ta2 + 62ta – 250 = 0

Use the quadratic equation to find ta
if ax2+bx+c=0, then x=[-b±(b2-4ac)½] /2a

ta = [-(62) ± ((62)2 – 4(-1)(-250))1/2]/2(-1)ta = [ -62± (3844 -1000)1/2]/-2
ta = [-62 ± (2844)1/2]/-2
ta = [-62 ± (53.3292)]/-2
ta = [-62 + (53.3292)]/-2, [-62 – (53.3292)]/-2
ta = (-8.6708)/-2, (-115.3291)/-2
ta = 4.3354s, 57.66
(57 seconds is longer than the whole fall took, so it can’t be the time spent accelerating)
ta = 4.3354s
vt = (32 ft/s2)( ta) = (32 ft/s2)(4.3354s) = 138.7328 ft/s

Buster’s terminal velocity was 139 ft/s

We can check this by finding the distances he fell while accelerating and while at terminal velocity and making sure they add up to 4000ft.
tt = 31s – ta = 31s – 4.3354s = 26.6646s
xa = ½(32ft/s2)(ta2) =½(32ft/s2)( 4.3354s2) = 300.7311ft
xt = vt (tt) = (138.7328ft/s)(26.6646s) = 3699.2546ft
xa + xt = 300.7311ft + 3699.2546ft = 3999.9857 feet
Not quite but close enough for government work.;)

(Actually, four decimal places is far more precise than my initial inputs, so my answer is way more precise than my inputs. Actually, I’m a huge geek. And typing math is a pain.)

13 December 2007


I had some other topic but now I've forgotten so back to my seasonal one. What's your favorite Christmas carol?

I love Christmas carols, particularly the actually religious ones, and loved to go caroling when I was a kid (and with my Sunday School class more recently). Here are my favorites songs of the season. (I have a few more than one fave so bare with me here.)

"O Come, O Come Emmanuel" isn't actually a Christmas hymn but rather an Advent hymn. I love the haunting melody. I like "In the Bleak Midwinter" for the same reason. Besides, how often do you get to say cherubim and seraphim? I've always liked "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen." I like "Good Christian Men Rejoice" because it is fun to sing. I love the chorus for "Angels We Have Heard on High". I know many people find "Do You Hear What I Hear" to be one of the most annoying songs ever but I like it. "Good King Wenceslas" is a good story (and as a samba a GREAT tune) but you have to sing all five verses. You have to sing all verses known or in the book to all carols anyway, IMHO, so that's not a problem. ("The First Noel" is an exception to this rule.) I could go on and on but I'll stop now.

What are your favorite carols? Do you like to go caroling? You want to get together and go caroling???

12 December 2007


Your Monday Photo Shoot: Show something frosty. A frosted window pane, a frosty mug of beer, a pet coming in from the cold -- if it's frosted, it's in. If it's not particularly frosty where you are, or you don't have any frost laden pictures in your archives: Fake being cold. Because that would be funny.

Well, I am somewhat frosty in that photo. I needed the sweater but haven't needed my gloves today. Outside my office the only cold place I know is my freezer. While I need the sweater inside (and occasionally the gloves) it is currently mind numbing 75° (at 2:15) in lovely Tuscaloosa. Only 17° above average. Yesterday we set a new record, official high was 78°. Whoopee! Really helps one get in the Christmas spirit.

Unfortunately all this warm weather (and the proceeding colder weather) means that the University hasn't turned the heat on in our building. My office is close to the air handlers, so it is extra-specially cold at this end of the building. I really hope the students living in the dorms have good blankets because we've had a light frost or two, already.

A couple odds and ends:

It takes a some kind of genius to not only write a really funny chapter long fart joke but make that fart joke the cause of an interspecies (& interplanetary) diplomatic incident. Thank you John Scalzi.

Is there a free music program that will allow you to balance to recording levels? I have several CDs that are recorded quieter than most and when I try to make a mixed playlist or CD* those songs are soft while the rest are just right (or just right while the others are really loud). I could do this on my old tape deck when making a tape of a CD.

This was suppose to be my submission for last week's MPS:

The odd man out could be either the African violet not in bloom in front or the philodendron behind the violets.

Untangle, The Consumerist is not porn. Please stop blocking it.

*That’s right RIAA, I rip CDs I own and burn mixes. Deal with it. It is bullshit that you say it is illegal to rip a CD. If a software company tried to sue someone for making a backup copy of software, they’d be laughed out of court. It's not quite the same thing but close. The main reason I've ripped most of my CDs and burned a copy is I don't want to carry around the $17 originals in the car and back and forth to the office. I'd much rather scratch up the 17¢ copy. (I have had a CD "explode" in a computer; it almost certainly had a flaw on it that I'd not noticed.) Hopefully, I'm not inviting a lawsuit with that comment.

06 December 2007

We've come a long way, Baby!

Backwards, that is.

Here's a transcript of Kennedy's speech explaining why his Catholicism shouldn't be an issue in the election. A really short summary would be: Separation of Church and State should (and will with me) be absolute. I don't speak for the Church and they don't speak for me. There are bigger issues at stake.

Now, at least half of the candidates seeking nomination use their faith to court voters. They will (or at least say they will) make decisions based on their faith. Some of our current elected officials have even made decisions based on their faith and not on the Constitution.

Different religions often emphasize similar values and those common values are ones I think are good ones for elected officials to ascribe to and want to bring to the office. (Talking about honesty, peace, charity, stewardship, tolerance . I didn't say all sects of all religions emphasize all of them.) Therefore, I have no problem with an elected official being religious. I have no problem if their faith informs their decision making. BUT in the end whether to sign or veto a bill, whether to normalize relations with a country, whatever, has to be decided on the best interests of the country and the constitutionality of it, not whether your pastor (rabbi, imam, priest, guru,...) says it is right.

03 December 2007

OMG, WTF is wrong with the world?

This weekend I finally got the story on why a good friend of my mother's daughter is now being home-schooled and heard about what happened to her son, too. And OMG WTF?!?!?!?

First the son's story. (It's shorter.) He was hanging out with some friends from high school and one of them spiked his drink with something. He spent a week in the hospital. The doctors don't know what it was. He's been unable to work or go to school because he can't concentrate and now he's severely depressed. He's spending December in the hospital's psychiatric ward. Hopefully he'll be able to function in the new year. He was allowed to medically withdraw from school, so at least it won't hurt his GPA. Guys, don't leave your drink unattended, don't accept open drinks from other people. (Apparently, this information isn't just for young ladies anymore.)

Now the daughter, I'll call her C. C was attending one of the City's high schools and doing well. She's a good kid. A few weeks ago she was in a fight and ended up at the hospital with her scalp. split open. The other girl claimed C jumped her for no reason and the next day expulsion proceedings were begun on C. (The other girl was suspended for 2 or 3 days.) C tells her mother that she didn't know what hit her, she didn't start it, she doesn't know what it was about.... Since C is a basically a good kid and the other girl hasn't a scratch on her, C's mom is suspicious about the official story. When she finds out that the school is going to expel C, she is furious. She meets with the principal who tells her that there are no witnesses, the security
cameras don't actually work, and the other girl said C jumped her. End of story. C's Mom is very suspicious, as she's been in the school a lot and the halls are never completely empty. This all sounds very fishy, but she has no proof.

Then a teacher calls C's Mom and says she resigned over this but is afraid to speak publicly. The former teacher wants to meet at Wal-mart. When they meet, the teacher tells C's Mom that there were witnesses, a bunch of them, the other girl jumped C without warning, and it was a gang initiation. Now C's Mom goes to legal aid and tells the story. Legal aid lawyer goes to the school and gets a copy of the security tape (which does work after all). The tape shows not only multiple student witnesses but teachers and the principal either witnessing the fight or there immediately afterwards (e.i. completely aware that there were witnesses). Now the other girl is expelled and the school board reverses their expulsion of C. But C now refuses to set foot in the school (I don't blame her.). So C's Mom pulls her out for the rest of the year, to be home schooled, and isn't sure about next year. Meanwhile the principal at the school, who lied about the incident, is still there.

WTF is up with our schools? The city has reorganized the schools in the last few years in ways that have messed them up and re-segregated them, but this? This is beyond the pale.